Olga Vidisheva’s aha moment came following a business trip to Paris where she bought a pair of shoes that caused a sensation back home. Friends wanted a pair, but the boutique didn’t ship to the U.S. The germ of the Shoptiques idea was born.
“There was this whole set of inventory that wasn’t being shipped,” said Vidisheva, who was working for Goldman Sachs at the time. “I realized there was a huge opportunity to bring products from unique stores to consumers.”
Shoptiques.com wants to be the anti-Amazon, offering unique merchandise from boutiques around the world rather than focusing on big brand names.
The site has rapidly scaled since 2012 when it launched with 25 boutiques to the 5,000 independent stores now represented .
“We’ve raised more than $2 million,” Vidisheva said. “There’s no reason we can’t be a $1 billion company.”
To learn how to run a company, Vidisheva enrolled at the Harvard Business School. She worked at Chanel between her first and second years. “I talked to 800 stores in 2010,” she said. “Nobody was online. There was Net-a-porter, which aggregates big brands and Etsy for small home furnishings brands.”
Vidisheva estimated that 40 percent of off-line transactions occur at small businesses and said that 99 percent of boutiques are owned by women. “The best boutiques understand the value of the Internet, but are overwhelmed by its complexity,” she said.
Y Combinator, which has invested in Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox, took an interest in Shoptiques. “I was their first nontechnology founder,” Vidisheva said. “I knew operations and logistics. They taught me how to interact with and build technology.”
Shoptiques doesn’t own any products. “We’re integrated into [a boutique’s] technology,” she said. “We give them packing materials and shipping labels. We also give them marketing tools and build web sites on their behalf. We sign exclusive contracts with stores.
The appeal of Shoptiques is its far-ranging products — at any given time, there are 100,000 live items on the site. “We find the unique pieces,” Vidisheva said. “We’re taking a huge piece of the fashion industry and pushing it forward by being its ally.”
Shoptique appeals to a broad consumer base from 18 to 85, but its customers aren’t brand-centric. “They’re not label whores,” Vidisheva said. “A consumer could spend $800 on a dress and $50 on another dress in the same transaction.”
The boutique curation team vets stores according to a set of criteria. “A store has to be cute, because we have pick up in store as an option,” Vidisheva said. “Sometimes you order from Seamless and walk by a restaurant and think you want to die.”
Shoptiques shoots about 800 products each week in its studio. Boutique’s new to the site start with their top 20 items. “That enables us to see what resonates with the consumer,” Vidisheva said. “After a certain sell-through they come onboard.”
Vidisheva sees the world through fuchsia-colored glasses. Moving to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, where everything was a drab uniform, it’s no wonder she seized upon fuchsia as Shoptiques’ signature color. Fuchsia is the color of the logo — a shopping bag with a smile. Walls at Shoptique’s New York headquarters are painted fuchsia, and it’s the shade of the balloons that hover over the desks of customer service associates, known as the Wow team because their mission is to exceed shoppers’ expectations. The team sends consumers personal notes — written on, yes, fuchsia paper, with styling tips for their purchases.
Vidisheva tries to keep employees happy with a variety of perks from custom fuchsia Nike sneakers on their first anniversary to an all expenses-paid trip for two to Mexico for their second anniversary. A display on one wall shows the rocket pilot of the month. There’s also a speaker series with guests such as Pauline Brown, a professor at Harvard Business School and the former chairman for North America at LVMH, and Ken Seiff, founder of Bluefly.
“Customers are looking for instant gratification,” Vidisheva said. “We deliver within three to five days internationally and an average of two days in the U.S.”
The exposure to global products allows shoppers to see-now-buy-now. For example, it’s already fall in the Netherlands, Vidisheva pointed out. “You don’t have to wait for fashion trends to trickle down,” she added. “Australia is ahead of the curve.”
Vidisheva said the business requires “surgical execution” because many of the products are one-offs. That doesn’t worry her. “We’re trying to level the digital playing field for the boutique industry,” she said.